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The kind of day-worker center that the Minutemen target is an unusual bureaucratic creation made possible by loopholes in the immigration and tax codes. Cities with big illegal-immigrant populations have been setting up such centers lately to lend some organization to what had been an underground marketplace. At the centers, laborers can drop in and earn from $7 to $10 an hour doing jobs such as construction and landscaping. The law does not require the day-labor centers to check the legal status of workers. It allows employers to hire them without informing federal and state agencies if the workers perform casual, nonrecurrent jobs like babysitting or gardening on the employer's property or if they have a special skill like carpentry and can work without supervision. In those cases, the day-labor centers can legitimately--if not very plausibly--argue that the workers were legals. The practice plays cute with the law, to be sure, but since people get paid and work gets done, just about everyone involved with it has something to gain from it. What's not to like?
Plenty, insist Gilchrist and his ilk. "Illegal aliens are invading this country and are killing us," he says. Anyone who hires them is a "morally cheap slave employer."
That's not the way Michael O'Reilly, mayor of Herndon, sees it. O'Reilly had been receiving increasing citizen complaints about crowds of up to 100 illegal immigrants congregating on a conspicuous corner in front of a 7-Eleven, where locals in need of day labor knew they could go and pick up a worker or two. O'Reilly created a day-labor center, which cleared the sidewalk and created jobs. No sooner did he do that, however, than Herndon resident George Taplin, a software engineer and Navy veteran who is the local leader of the Minutemen, began organizing volunteers to videotape laborers going to the center and even follow them to their work sites. Taplin then handed over the information to the IRS and state licensing agencies. "The laborers hide their faces when they see us coming, and the employers don't stop [to pick them up]," Taplin says. So far he is not aware of any government agencies acting on the information he has given them, but he is hopeful that they will.
O'Reilly, who says he has received hate mail and crank calls since setting up the day-labor center, wonders if the Minutemen even care whether they get an official response. "Several of the national groups had an interest in making us a test case when we were trying to solve a local issue," he says. The real goal for the Minutemen, he argues, is creating nationwide publicity for their cause.
The group is trying a variety of tactics. Gilchrist is running in a special election to fill a House seat that became available when Bush appointed Christopher Cox, who represented Gilchrist's district, to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. Although Gilchrist decided to enter the race only three weeks before the October primary, in which 16 other candidates were running, he won 14.8% of the vote. That earned him a place in the runoff on Dec. 6 against Republican John Campbell, who got 45.5%.
Mark Petracca, a professor of political science at the University of California at Irvine, says Gilchrist has made illegal immigration a "fulcrum issue, around which revolve most of the other issues people care about," such as education, taxation and health care.